“Why are you here?” Father José asked me before I began the Camino de San Ignacio in Spain. I said something along the lines of, “Well, because I had a week off for the first time in over a year, and my family asked me to come.” Truth be told, I had not thought very hard about the journey. PA school was all consuming, and there hadn’t really been opportunities for me to feel or think about why I had done anything in a long time. Father José responded simply, “You’re here because for some reason, God wants you to be here.”
He did not say that God wanted me to do anything, pass a test, or even meet the people I was with. He just said, “God wants you to be here.” I am a scientific person, and I was not satisfied with his answer. I like to know what the Lord wants from me. I prefer whatever that is to have a definitive time line and a measurable outcome. I want to fix things and create solutions to problems. Hearing that the Lord just wanted me to just “be” there was one of the most difficult things for me to comprehend and even more difficult to live. It meant letting go of the past, allowing the future to take care of itself, placing one foot in front of the other, and simply walking…for many miles.
“Pilgrimage must bring us to the limit of ourselves,” Father José said. Pilgrimage, as I came to understand it, is meant to reveal our inability to control everything in our lives and therefore challenge us to trust God and to love. So, I walked through the mountains and dirt roads of Spain. For a short while, I felt relief. My heart felt free for the first time in years because for just a few days, I could physically see that the only thing the Lord wanted from me was the present step. Unfortunately, I had to return to the United States before the end of the pilgrimage and begin clinical rotations. I believed my pilgrimage was over, but thankfully, I was wrong.
“Kinyarwanda…hmmm,” I thought as I read her chart. Kinyarwanda is a language spoken only in Rwanda and Uganda. Seeing this particular language in the chart meant I needed to use an interpreter on a language line to speak with this refugee patient. I dialed 9-1-877... and put the interpreter on speaker as I entered the patient’s room. She was one of the most beautiful people I have ever seen. The young girl, wearing a traditional dress, gripped her small baby boy tightly to her chest. She was not sick but needed to update and receive immunizations for her green card. I asked the interpreter to explain that her immunizations were up to date, so she could begin the green card application process. “Sawa” or “okay,” she said. I listened to her heart with my stethoscope. As I listened, her baby squeezed my finger with a smile. I inhaled deeply to demonstrate that I needed her to take a deep breath also while I listened to her lungs. She followed suit appropriately, while her baby and I continued exchanging goofy faces. She did not really need much in the way medicine from me. Stripped of words and recognizing the limits of my medical background to address issues surrounding immigration, I struggled to see what God wanted from me right then. My patient did not have a medical problem for me to solve, though she was certainly struggling. Instead, she needed subtle motions, eye contact, and concern. She needed love. She reminded me that my pilgrimage was not over. As Father José had said, “Pilgrimage pushes us to our limits.” Even though I wanted to be a heroine and solve her problems, I had to recognize that I was a limited pilgrim on this earth. I could only give her presence and love. As she walked out of the clinic, her small baby looked back and waved. It was all God asked of me. It was enough.
It was symbolic for me that I never completed the Camino de San Ignacio because I realized that the “pilgrimage” is never over. We will always be pushed to our personal limits and challenged to rely on love. There is always some reason God wants us to be here. While we are here, there is always a call to presence, hope, and surrender. In the words of St. Ignatius:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
-St. Ignatius of Loyola